Finnish Pavilion: 55th International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia
Frame Visual Art Finland: A Fallen Tree Grows into a Garden of Knowledge
1 June - 24 November 2013
From the Press Release
Falling Trees, the most extensive Finnish exhibition yet, will be presented in Venice. Finland is participating with an exceptionally extensive exhibition in the 55th International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia that opens on 1 June. ‘Falling Trees’, curated by the Gruppo 111 collective (Mika Elo, Marko Karo and Harri Laakso), combines the solo exhibitions of the Finnish artists Terike Haapoja and Antti Laitinen into a garden-like whole, which takes over both the Nordic Pavilion and the Finnish Alvar Aalto Pavilion.
The exhibition ‘Falling Trees’ has gained not only its name, but also its conceptual starting point from an unexpected event at Biennale Arte of 2011, when a large tree fell on the Aalto Pavilion, shattering it and cutting short the exhibition on display at the time. This contingent encounter between art and nature provided the first note to a sinuous curating process and echoes in the ensuing ensemble of the two singular shows.
Terike Haapoja (born in 1974) will transform the Nordic Pavilion, designed by Sverre Fehn, via comprehensive architectural gestures into a research laboratory, where technology and science find their place as tools for investigating the basic questions of life and art - memory, our relationship with nature, and mortality. Antti Laitinen (born in 1975) will bring to the Aalto Pavilion a body of works consisting of videos and photographs, installations, and performance, where uncompromising conceptuality and absurd humour meet on the stage created by Finnish nature.
‘As an ensemble, the exhibitions by Haapoja and Laitinen form a particular garden of knowledge; one where knowledge cannot be plucked directly from the tree, as in botanical gardens or zoos based on classification. In this garden, knowledge means shared, open and concrete participation and recognition of the active agency of nature and its different species,’ the exhibition’s curators say.
‘Both artists challenge us to think about our human dimensions from a new perspective, even though they work in very different ways and with different results. Their works reveal the contingency in the foundations of our daily lives, while at the same time enriching the possibilities of our imaginative faculties.’
Haapoja looks for communality between species
The exhibition of Terike Haapoja is reminiscent of an immense x-ray machine. It opens views to the non-human, offers us glimpses of the sovereign agency of nature. The exhibition consists of two separate parts, one of which is the set of installations Closed Circuit - Open Duration, utilising technology and natural processes, and the other is the project Party of Others.
Community (2007/2013) is a multi-channel video installation that belongs to the former set of works. It provides a telling path into Haapoja’s world. Reflected on round projection surfaces one can see animals that have just passed away, a horse, a cat, a calf, a dog, and a bird, each one recorded on infrared video. The images show the inexorable loss of temperature gradient across the body surface: colourful life fades away in front of our eyes and vanishes into the deep blue background. Islands of living matter drown into the entropic sea. What kind of community is this’ Are we part of it’ How does it demarcate its territory’
These questions are echoed in many of Terike Haapoja’s works - often so that nature itself uses its agency to ask them. This may involve, for example, communication between trees or plants (Dialogue, 2008/2013), respiration of decomposing soil (Inhale/Exhale, 2008/2011) or human beings as biotopes for a multitude of organisms (Succession, 2008/2013).
These questions gain an upfront political framework in the project Party of Others, which was based on a question that has long interested Haapoja: what would a society be like that was not based on the exclusion of those devoid of rights’ The project is based on a political intervention implemented in Finland in 2011, when Haapoja interviewed Finnish researchers and legal scholars. These discussions provided the raw material for an audiovisual installation as well as for a programme of a political party. In Venice, the manifesto is implemented by interviewing local researchers and activists.
‘I wanted to transform the building into a sort of ‘pavilion of the species’ and to challenge the familiar human- and nation-state -centric approach, which is often found at the heart of the exhibitions at the Biennale. A human being should be examined as an ecosystem and a part of nature, not as an individual. We are not beings separate from the rest of the environment, and neither are we the only ones to communicate their needs and keep in contact with each other,’ Haapoja says.
Terike Haapoja’s art is characterised by a comprehensive investigative attitude. Her works reflect an unrestrained readiness to utilise technology and a desire to experiment with the artistic and political possibilities of different forms of co-operation. Haapoja also works as a researcher. She writes and lectures about the influence of science, technology and environmental ethics on art. She is also working on a thesis on this subject at the University of the Arts Helsinki.
Sticks and stones may break my bones - Laitinen works like Sisyphus
Antti Laitinen’s exhibition at the Aalto Pavilion is a dialogue between his new and earlier works. On the centre stage is the new photographic triptych entitled Forest Square (2013). The work is rooted - literally, in this case - in 100 square metres of forest: after Laitinen had felled the trees and torn out their roots from the ground, he removed the covering layer of soil from the area. After this, he started to sort the materials into their constituent parts and finally to rearrange the material into a carefully assembled composition to be photographed.
Sorting the forest and the layer of peat in a factory hall took several months, and in the end, necessitated working nearly around the clock. During this time, life was also born in the hall: spiders and butterflies escaped after having woken from their winter torpor. Eventually the sorted forest found its definite shape and size: it looks like a colour composition and takes exactly one hundred square metres of space, just like the original patch of forest.
The process of photographing the composition proved challenging, and to show the smallest of details the final work had to be composed of over 60 images stitched together. The two other images in the triptych show the forest area before and after the clearing.
Many features characterising Antti Laitinen as an artist culminate in this work: craftsmanship, tangible thinking, tragicomedy, repetition, and the coexistence of exhausting persistence and the transience of the blink of an eye. Laitinen is often considered to be an artist of extremes; after all, he has sailed from Finland to Estonia in a bark boat of his own making (‘Bark Boat’ 2010), built his own island (‘It’s My Island’ 2007), and spent several days in the forest without food or clothing (‘Bare Necessities’, 2002). On the other hand, in his works the mirror turns inevitably towards the viewers, who find themselves questioning the rationality of both their everyday use of time and the society around them.
The fact that about 5,000 kg of birch logs split into firewood will be transported to the Biennale also says something about Laitinen’s working methods. The wood felled and chopped by Laitinen serves as material for the performance and installation planned for the front lawn of the Aalto Pavilion. With the help of a hammer and nails, they will become a forest of their own.
‘The birch wood will turn into Frankenstein birches. The working method is like when you’re putting a puzzle together and can’t find the right pieces, so you force them in place anyway. Lighthearted pleasure and comic elements are important in my work. There isn’t always much sense in making the work, but I do it anyway,’ says Laitinen.